State Senator Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) is seeking a $925,000 grant from an agriculture program he helped create through a law he drafted and sold to the legislature as a economic development tool for rural North Carolina.
In 2013, Jackson crafted the “Ag Gas” program, the second largest program in the state in terms of public funds awarded, that made it easier for farms to win state grants to help cover the cost of obtaining natural gas or propane.
But while lobbying for the legislation, Jackson failed to disclose the fact that his farm had previously filed a $925,000 grant application with the state agency that approves the grants.
Jackson now claims that he ‘didn’t realize’ his grant application was still under consideration by the agency, and says he only applied for the loan after hearing other farmers talk about how difficult it was to apply.
“I have taken no money,” Jackson said Monday. “I heard so many folks talking about how hard it was to apply to this program. I decided the best way to find out was to apply and see how it works.”
He also says that had the agency approved his grant, he would have declined the money.
Jackson also acknowledges the obvious conflict of interest questions his role in the legislation and his application bring into play. Obviously, state law prohibits lawmakers from using their position to directly benefit themselves of their families’ businesses.
Jane Pinsky, director of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform, says there’s little doubt Jackson should have disclosed his application for the grant to the legislature last summer, regardless of his reasons for seeking the grant or his belief that it wasn’t successful.
“If that’s true,” Pinsky said of Jackson’s explanation for seeking the grant, “the senator did not think through what he was doing, because the perception is that he was taking care of himself before he was helping other farmers.”
Whatever Senator Jackson’s motives, whether it was merely an error or an attempt to personally benefit his business, it’s abundantly clear that this ordeal has severely damaged his reputation as a respected lawmaker focused on making government smaller and more effective for the people.
One can only hope that this truly was a mistake, and that the Senator will be much more careful not to intertwine his political and business dealings.